Viva la Zealotry!

Nothing makes an article worth reading like prodigious use of the word “zealot.” And I’m in luck! Today’s round of randomly picked (by Google) bicycle related web happenings returned two different posts that were fortified with 200% of my daily allowance of claims of zealotry. Oh yea – and a couple of straw men thrown in for good measure.

The first of these two appeared on a blog titled Cal Watchdog, written by Katy Grimes. This piece, titled “Bicycle nuts driving local traffic issues,” caught my attention because I could relate to it in a very specific way. This OpEd piece is about the desire to get bike lanes on a specific stretch of road in Sacrament, CA. It just so happens that I used to live in one of the neighborhoods served by that road, and I’ve in fact ridden on the stretch in question. As with many OpEd type pieces, it was full of hyperbole (good thing I never do that in my articles. *cough* *cough*). But there are some rather specific statements from Ms. Grimes that just beg for rebuttal:

 The City of Sacramento, run by mostly arrogant liberals, has been trying to ram through approval of more bicycle lanes on very busy streets and major arteries of auto travel.

Here, Ms. Grimes is strategically framing her argument to be as polarizing as possible. Specifically, she’s maneuvering towards the all-to-often used tactic of making it an “us versus them” argument. The emotional reaction by many is to read “cyclists (the “them”) are specifically targeting busy streets to take away lanes for cars (the “us”). We’ll see more of this tactic later. What she refuses to acknowledge is that bicycles take up significantly less road surface compared to cars. What does this mean for the cars? Well, the more people that feel comfortable using bicycles as a means of transportation, the fewer actual cars on the road, and thus those “very busy streets” become not so busy – for everyone.

Moving on….

Freeport Blvd. is a heavily traveled street and frequently backs up in the downtown areas.

Well this is just factually inaccurate – and anyone that lives in Sacramento (as Ms. Grimes claims to) would know that. Freeport Blvd in fact ends at Broadway, no where near downtown. The normal course into downtown from Freeport Blvd would be to veer onto 21st, which is already a one-way street with existing bike lanes. Nothing being “taken away” from the motorists in the downtown region here. The only logical conclusion about her throwing in this obviously erroneous statement is an attempt to further persuade her readers into the “us vs. them” frame of thinking.


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The utopian bicyclists, who unabashadly state that there should not be autos on the roads, keep finding ways to keep this project alive.

This is my favorite part. I especially love the line “…who unabashadly state that there should not be autos on the roads…” Really? Who says that? More “us vs. them” – this time stopping just short of telling the poor, poor motorists that us cyclists will also steal children in the night. The “us vs. them” argument frankly just doesn’t hold water. The vast majority of cyclists also … wait for it … drive cars too! We’re not anti-car, but we may be a little anti-getting-killed-by-cars. We own vehicles, purchase gasoline, pay property taxes – all the things Ms. Grimes seems to be implying that cyclists are a threat to.

For those interested, the actual proposal can be found on the City of Sacramento Department of Transportation website.

But that wasn’t the end of the claims of zealotry for the day. In fact, I found a second article, this one entitled “Bicycle Zealots Run Over Common Sense with New Laws.” But wait! Check out that byline. Why, this article is also by none other than the prolific Ms. Grimes! Now, if I were to adopt her style, I’d immediately decry Ms. Grimes as an “Anti-Cyclist Zealot” with an agenda to “deprive me of safe riding conditions and continue to push for policies designed to endanger my life and well being.” But luckily, I’m not like that, so I won’t make such statements.

This second piece is an attack on recent legislation related to cycling:

The California Legislature just passed three bills allowing the state’s bicycling extremists the upper hand on streets designed for autos.

Sigh. “…bicycling extremists the upper hand…” Yet more “us vs. them” propaganda. One of the bills in question is SB 1464 - the so-called “3 Foot Passing Rule.” Not sure why she picked this one to complain about. This isn’t actually a new law, but rather clarification of a somewhat vague existing law that requires motorosts to pass cyclists at a “safe distance.” This law clearly defines “safe distance” as 3 feet. What’s wrong with removing ambiguity from laws? We updated our laws from “to drunk to drive a car safely” to “blood alcohol level equal to or above 0.08.” Was that a wasteful law too?

Ms. Grimes goes on to characterize the previously passed Complete Streets Act with this gem:

In 2008, the Legislature passed the California Complete Streets Act, which required roadways to be designed to accommodate all users: bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders, disabled people, children, older people and motorists.

Obviously, no one talked with a physics professor before writing this legislation.

I’m actually not sure what relevance a physics professor would have in this discussion, given that the folks that were actually involved know how to make this a reality. How? Well, among them were planners and representitives from cities all over the world where roadways already exist that were designed to accomodate all users. Sorry Ms. Grimes, your attempt to question the intelligence of the legislation by implying that it is impossible to achieve falls apart when you can find existing examples of the goal already achieved in real life.

For me the real clincher was her closing remark though. Keep in mind that her article started out by claiming in the title “Bicycle Zealots Run Over Common Sense…” So she throws in this final thought:

I am hoping that legislators introduces a bill mandating bicyclists to follow traffic laws. If California is really going to become bicycle-friendly, it’s time for cyclists to follow all traffic laws; because when bike-auto collisions occur, often the bicyclist is part of the problem, and not always the victim.

So her “common sense” approach is to hope legislatures pass a law, that will mandate that cyclists follow the laws. Not only is that an absurd and ridiculous idea, it is a tired old argument that doesn’t hold up. I grow weary of the “cyclists never follow the laws argument.” Or worse “I’ll share the road when cyclists follow the rules of the road.” Implicit in that statement is the idea that motors actually follow the laws themselves. Every hear of the California Stop Ms. Grimes? An illegal maneuver so common it has a nick name in common parlance. Ever drive the speed limit on the freeway only to find that every other motors it changing lanes to pass you? And frankly the characterization that all cyclists are law breakers is yet more of the apparently standard Ms. Grimes attack strategy: “us vs. them.”

Oh… but wait! Let’s go back to the first article regarding the bike lanes in Sacramento where she writes this statement:

Bicycling on this street is not safe, and never will be. There are too many businesses and too many cars. When I am on my bike, because I have a stong sense of survival, I avoid riding on Freeport Blvd.

Huh. So on the one hand you claim to be a cyclist yourself, then on the other hand claim that cyclists are a danger that don’t follow the laws.

Sorry Ms. Grimes. I love a good, passionate opinion piece as much as the next gal. But I call B.S. on your drivel.